National Inuit organization gets $325,000 to try to keep kids in school
ITK will have to coordinate efforts with four Inuit regions
Updated at 3 p.m., Dec. 12
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s Amaujaq National Centre for Inuit Education is one of three recipients sharing this year’s $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize, ArcticNet announced at a Dec. 11 gala ceremony in Halifax.
ITK’s portion, $325,000, will go toward implementing a “national parental mobilization initiative aimed at engaging parents as partners in education,” said a Dec. 11 news release from the Inuit organization, which represents Canada’s 50,000 Inuit.
Reached at her hotel room in Halifax still absorbing the news, Mary Simon, head of ITK’s National Committee on Education, said she was thrilled that Nunavut’s Coalition of District Education Authorities saw fit to nominate ITK’s education initiative for the prize.
She said she kept the cheque in her purse for a while before handing it over to ITK administrators, just to enjoy the weight of it.
“Bringing people together to talk about how to keep your children in school is a very important discussion in the community because it’s a community issue,” Simon said.
“It’s not just the parent’s responsibility although, that’s where it starts. A child is home and we all, as parents, have responsibilities. But you can be an excellent parent and your kid can still drop out of school so you can’t make a judgment on why a kid won’t stay in school but it’s proven that if you have a child that’s well rested and has a good meal before school, they’re more likely to stay in school.”
While it will be up to ITK’s national committee to decide which communities get funded for what projects, she emphasized that ITK has no intention of imposing programs from outside but will insist on developing grassroots programs that will be locally sustainable.
It could be as simple as having a facilitator gather parents together weekly to share issues around keeping kids in school, she said.
It’s difficult, she says, but not impossible. The key is to facilitate that local discussion so people who are having success can help to brainstorm solutions. First Nations communities, such as Deline, have turned school attendance figures around dramatically this way and there’s no reason it can’t be done across Inuit Nunangat, Simon said.
If parents can’t actually help their kids with homework because of their own education level or first language, just creating a safe, quiet, regular learning environment in a crowded home goes a long way toward allowing children to muddle through their studies.
“Even if you have all these social issues and problems — there will always be those barriers and they are too high — but they are always facing families,” Simon said. “We need to focus on what people can do together, at the community level to change the way they were getting their children educated.”
Nunavik’s Kativik Regional Government has already launched its own stay-in-school initiative called Esuma. The hope there is to spark an interest in education throughout the region to get parents, skilled individuals, businesses and organizations focused on keeping students in the classroom.
ITK’s campaign to mobilize parents was launched in Iqaluit in spring 2013 after the official opening of the Amaujaq Centre.
That launch was followed by similar events in the other three Inuit regions. Simon said she’s had good cooperation so far from the regions and that is absolutely necessary in order to maximize minimal resources by sharing best practices and avoiding duplication.
They’ll likely find an ally in Nunavut’s newly-elected premier, Peter Taptuna, who made education one of his priorities and said it was likely what got him elected to lead the territory.
“All the candidates indicated that education is key,” he said in November 2013. “We all put a good effort into making sure that it stays on top of the priority list.”
Terry Audla, ITK’s president, said he was grateful to the people who set up the prize.
“I would like to extend my sincere thanks to ArcticNet, and to Arnold Witzig and Sima Sharifi, the founders of the Arctic Inspiration Prize,” Audla said, in the Dec. 11 release. “Their dedication to transforming Arctic knowledge into concrete action is truly admirable.”
ITK will share the million dollars with two other recipients — Ikaarvik: From Barriers to Bridges and Sakkijanginnatuk Nunalik: Healthy Homes in Thriving Nunatsiavut Communities.
Ikaarvik is a team of researchers from Université du Quebec à Rimouski and the Institute of Ocean Sciences, and also the Vancouver Aquarium, according to an ArcticNet news release.
They are hoping to develop community-based science in conjunction with five Nunavut communities in order to make research more relevant to northern people and so that the Canadian public can better understand the Arctic and its inhabitants. They will receive $325,000 to do so.
The Nunatsiavut group, made up of several governing bodies in Labrador along with Memorial University, will use their $350,000 to build and monitor Nunatsiavut’s “first sustainable, multi-unit residential dwelling and establish a prototype for Northern housing that addresses the changing northern climate, infrastructure requirements and Inuit housing needs.”